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At the risk of pulling a Captain Obvious, there's no shortage of skincare oils out there. Still, some are more omnipresent than others (we're looking at you, coconut and jojoba) popping up in seemingly every product as a universal panacea for all kinds of beauty issues. And they're great for sure, but when it comes to oils, it's well-worth your time and effort to dig a little deeper. Case in point? Meet marula oil. The mega multi-tasker goes above and beyond the hydrating call of duty, doing all kinds of good things for your complexion.
Ahead, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical in New York City Dr. Morgan Rabach and Dr. Jennifer Haley, a board-certified dermatologist in Scottsdale, Arizona, weigh in on marula oil's most standout attributes.
Type of ingredient: Emollient
Main benefits: Seals-in hydration and softens skin, offers antioxidant protection, has anti-inflammatory effects, has some antibacterial properties.
Who should use it: Marula oil is good for all skin types, says Haley, though, as with most oils, it's especially choice for those with very dry or cracked skin.
How often can you use it: Marula oil can be used daily.
Works well with: There aren't any known ingredients that it should be used with, though Rabach points out it can be layered over products with active ingredients (retinoids, peptides, antioxidants) to help seal them into skin and boost their efficacy.
Don't use with: There are currently no known ingredients that will interact negatively with marula oil, although you can always have too much of a good thing. Avoid using any other oils in your routine to try to better maintain balanced skin.
What Is Marula Oil?
Marula oil is a naturally-occurring oil derived from the marula tree (technical name: Sclerocarya birrea) found in sub-Saharan tropical Africa. The oil can come from either the nuts, seeds, or the fruit of said tree; the nut can be be boiled, the seeds pressed, or the fruit processed to extract it. And while it might be the new kid on the beauty block here, it's been used for centuries in Africa as a cure-all, points out Rabach. In its purest state, the oil is a light yellow color with an ever-so-slight nutty scent.
Benefits of Marula Oil for Skin
Like the many (many) other oils out there, yes, marula oil is a great hydrator, but the benefits don't stop there.
- Seals-in moisture: "Marula oil is predominantly used for moisturization and hydration," says Rabach. More specifically, it's an emollient, which fills in the cracks and gaps in the outermost layer of the skin to leave it softer and smoother. It also has some occlusive tendencies, creating a light layer on top of the skin to seal in moisture. Credit its high levels of fatty acids, namely both oleic and linoleic fatty acids that soften and nourish the skin, explains Haley. Still, it's very lightweight and won't leave behind a greasy residue. In related news, a 2015 study found that the specific profile of fatty acids in marula oil was very similar to the oils naturally found in the skin.
- Won't clog pores: Haley says that marula oil is non-comedogenic, so you don't have to worry about it clogging pores, as is the case with some other oils. (Hello, coconut oil.)
- Offers antioxidant protection: You already know that antioxidants are a must-have ingredient in your quest for complexion perfection, and marula oil is a good source of these. Namely, it's packed with vitamins C and E, as well as a lesser-known antioxidant: "Marula oil contains the phytochemical epicatechin, which has strong antioxidant properties," explains Haley. And all those antioxidants are choice for helping to stave off the free radicals caused by exposure to UV rays and pollution (which might lead to things like spots and changes in skin texture). On a similar note...
- Has anti-aging benefits: Collagen and elastin—the proteins essential for healthy, youthful skin—are degraded by certain enzymes, which can be inhibited by antioxidants, says Haley, including, yep, those in marula oil. In fact, a 2018 study found that the ingredient was effective at inhibiting the enzymes that break down both collagen and elastin. It also contains amino acids, specifically L-arginine and glutamic acid, which also have anti-aging properties. Translation: Marula oil can help ward off fine lines and wrinkles.
- Works as an anti-inflammatory: Marula oil is thought to have good wound healing properties, and this can largely be attributed to its anti-inflammatory effects. Those same fatty acids that make it so hydrating also help combat inflammation and redness, notes Haley.
Side Effects of Marula Oil
Generally speaking, there's a very low risk of any type of side effects with marula. Still, as with any type of cosmetic ingredient, natural or not, there's always a risk of an actual allergy, cautions Rabach. If you're concerned, try any product containing it on a small area on your arm first (as a patch test) before slathering it all over your face. And as always, any allergy concerns should be directed at your dermatologist.
How to Use It
As with most oils, you can either use it straight up or look for it cocktailed with other ingredients in a serum or moisturizer. For the former, seek out pure or virgin marula oil, as it might have a higher concentration of those good-for-your skin antioxidants than a refined version. Both dermatologists we spoke with also say it can be used daily.
The Best Products With Marula Oil
A perennial team Byrdie favorite, we've gone so far as to call this the best face oil out there. Per the point about seeking out completely pure marula oil, this is exactly that, and is also free of any added fragrance or silicones. Ideal for all skin types—even the sensitive set—it soaks in quickly and in true marula oil fashion, promises a litany of benefits. We're talking everything from hydration, to spot-fading, to antioxidant protection.
The overnight hours may be prime time for your skin to reap all the anti-aging benefits marula oil has to offer, namely its ability to protect oh-so important collagen and elastin. In this night cream it does just that, all while imparting a hefty dose of hydration. Credit both marula oil and a proprietary complex of hyaluronic acid and peptides meant to lock in moisture.
Marula oil isn't only a great ingredient for your skin, it's also choice for your hair. "It gives hair a nice shine, but won't weigh it down, like argan oil can," says Haley. Not to mention that you don't have to worry about it getting on your scalp, since, after all, it does have plenty of skincare benefits. Happily, this multi-tasker, which uses cold-pressed marula oil, works equally well on hair and skin. Use a few drops under foundation for a glowy complexion or dab onto dry ends to tame frizz and smooth frayed ends.
For those who really love face oils, this option is choice, delivering 10 different plant-based oils, including marula, of course. (We also think it's one of the best products from the brand.) The end result? A power combo of nutrients and antioxidants for your skin, as well as plenty of hydration. And we'd obviously be remiss not to mention the crazy wallet-friendly price, too.
Cleansing oils are a great choice for removing a full face of makeup; the oil quickly and effectively breaks down the oils in the makeup. But if you don't love the feel or texture of using oil as a cleanser, try this creamier formula. It's packed with marula oil so you get those same oil-dissolving benefits (plus all of the benefits marula oil has for your skin in general), but in a creamier base that rinses completely cleanly. It also boosts soothing chamomile, making it an especially great pick for anyone with sensitive skin.
If you're looking for pure marula oil but don't want to shell out big bucks, here you go. This bargain buy contains just one ingredient (you know what that is) and can easily be used from head-to-toe. At this price, go ahead and slather it on with reckless abandon, you can afford another bottle.
Choice for all skin types, this is an especially ideal hydrator for ultra dry or sensitized skin, thanks to marula oil's hydrating and healing properties. And if you usually don't love super thick balms, don't worry. This one has the unique distinction of melting into more of a serum-like texture as you massage it into skin, disappearing without a trace. (Top tip: It even works great as a hydrator for chapped lips.) The subtle—and naturally-derived—floral fragrance is just an added bonus.
Komane B, Vermaak I, Summers B, Viljoen A. Safety and efficacy of Sclerocarya birrea (A.Rich.) hochst (marula) oil: a clinical perspective. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015;176:327-335. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2015.10.037
Shoko T, Maharaj VJ, Naidoo D, et al. Anti-aging potential of extracts from Sclerocarya birrea (A. Rich.) hochst and its chemical profiling by UPLC-Q-TOF-MS. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2018;18(1):54. doi:10.1186/s12906-018-2112-1